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Reduce your electricity costs

NOTICED the hike in electricity bills and the confusing world of solar? The Diary’s DAVID HOGG offers a comprehensive analysis of the current state of play and proves there are ways you can save and reduce your bills.

A COUPLE of years ago, WarrandyteCAN conducted a major initiative to attempt to get an electricity retailer to provide competitive pricing for Warrandyte residents.

Alas, the task was too difficult and has become even more so since then, with new retailers springing up and a price war that is centred around how big a discount they’ll give you rather than on the bottom-line price you’ll pay.

The discount means nothing unless you know the price. The newer retailers tend to come in with low prices to corner the market, then raise them considerably during or after the first year.

At that same time they introduce a new product that is still competitive, but leaving their existing customers stuck on the old and now-expensive product. So, last year’s bargain is not necessarily this year’s continuing good price.

As with car and house insurance, it really pays to shop around every year. Few can be bothered to do this.

Perhaps the biggest killer in your electricity bill is the so-called service or supply charge which can vary between retailers from $1 to $1.50 per day, which means you can be paying over $500 a year before you’ve consumed any electricity at all. The other charges relate to the electricity you actually use.

Most Warrandyte residents will by now have smart meters. These are now read online and are available for you to read online through the portal at myhomeenergy.com.au.

The best tariff, which hopefully most readers are on, is the “Time of Use” also known as “Peak/Off-Peak” tariff.

This provides for peak time electricity at anywhere between 25 and 45 cents per kilowatt hour, and offpeak rates from 12 to 20 cents. The peak tariff applies between 7am and 11pm AEST weekdays only, so your weekend electricity is at a much cheaper rate. Note, however, that your meter does not know Daylight Saving, so currently the cheap rate runs from midnight to 8am.

Nearly all retailers offer a discount, but again beware: with some retailers the discount applies only to the consumption but not to the service charge, whereas with others it applies to the whole bill. Most retailers give the discount off the bill in question, but a few treat it as a discount for prompt payment and apply it to the next bill. With the latter, you’ll find it difficult to get the last discount back if you change retailers. I have developed a spreadsheet with the latest tariffs, discounts and billing methods for each supplier and it is interesting to note the differences in prices.

The government website energymadeeasy.gov.au suggests that the average yearly consumption of electricity by a family of four people in postcode 3113 is 6617kWh per year. Using this, and making various assumptions… that you have no solar panels, you are on the peak/ off-peak tariff, no concession, have overnight electric hot water heating, maximum discounts and consume 2558 kWh per year peak, and 4059 kWh off-peak, then as at December 2014 your annual total electricity bill would be with each retailer as
indicated in the table below left.

Looking at this table, you may consider changing retailers; but there are pitfalls. Even though our meters are no longer “read” by a meter reader, Ausnet Services (previously SP-Ausnet) still use a notional “date of next meter reading” at three-monthly intervals, and your change of retailer does not take effect until the next quarterly date.

Add to this a couple of weeks for paperwork to progress through the system, and a further 10-day cooling-off period, and it can be anything from one to four months before you will actually change. By then, the prices may have changed again.

This is a volatile market. It may also be worth researching whether your prospective new supplier’s customer service desk speaks a language you understand.

Some retailers may lock you into a two or three year contract. This is not a problem as the fees for breaking the contract are small, usually in the range of $20 to $40.

Tips for non-solar users:

If your retailer is one of those in the bottom half of the table, or if your bill is considerably higher than in the table, ring them and tell them you’re considering changing supplier. Ask if you’re on their best plan and suggest that they offer you a better deal. They may well do this.

Your retailer may give you a slightly bigger discount if you elect to pay automatically by credit card or direct debit, or if you elect to receive your bills by email, or if you are an RACV member.

If you are a concession card holder, tell your retailer and you’ll get a useful government rebate.

If your washing machine, clothes dryer or dishwasher has a “delayed start” function, consider running it after midnight or before 7am during the week.

If you have a pool pump, put it on a timer and operate it at night for filtering.

Do not be persuaded to change to a “Flexible Pricing” tariff in which you have three rates – Peak, Shoulder and Off-peak – with some seasonal variations and differences at the weekend, unless you have really researched your usage. I have yet found an instance where “Flexible Pricing” would be cheaper than “Peak/Off- Peak” in a residential situation.

Think very carefully before you consider putting in solar panels; you’ve missed the boat. They’re paying you 6.2 cents for the electricity you sell them and charging you 18c at night and 30c or more during the day to buy it. It will cost you $6000 to $10,000 for a 4kW system installed, and you’ll be saving some $400 to $600 per year in bills at current rates with no guarantee of future pricing, making a 10 to 18-year payback period.

For concession card holders, there are two Victorian government concessions that apply. These have both been quietly watered down in the past 18 months. The “Annual Electricity Concession” now gives you 17.5% discount off the consumption and service components of your bill after discounts have been applied and any solar credits deducted, and excluding the first $171.60 (the Carbon Price Threshold) of billing in any year. The “Service to Property Concession” is only good for grey nomads or those who are away from their property for most of a billing period, and pegs the service charge for that bill to be no more than the consumption charge.

Now we’ll look at the rates for those with solar panels, and here is a right old muddle. Those people with foresight who installed their panels before 2012 receive the premium feed-in tariff (PFIT) for electricity they export to the grid at the rate of 60c per kWh guaranteed until November 1, 2024. Those who installed panels in 2012 receive the transitional feed-in tariff (TFIT) at 25c per kWh until the end of 2016.

Those who installed after 2012 would have benefitted from the falling price of purchase and installation, but get bugger all for their electricity export, currently 8c per kWh (FIT) dropping to 6.2c from January 1 next year.

Some retailers claim that they “top up” the government rates by an extra 6 to 10 cents, but often this is a smokescreen. The catch used to be that you get the promised discount off the whole bill, “not just the consumption like other retailers but with us, madam, it’s off the whole bill so it includes the service charge as well”.

Yes, but what he fails to tell you is that the “whole bill” also includes your solar credit which they’ll deduct before they apply the discount, so you’re not getting the implied benefits at all. Recently they’ve changed tack. The latest scam is that the discount plan offered by some retailers (three at the current count) in advertisements does not apply to customers with solar power; they get a very reduced discount on their consumption or none at all.

I have run the spreadsheet again for those with solar export. Again it makes various assumptions – that you own a 4kW solar system, it generates 5300kWh per year of which 1800 is used in the home and 3500 exported to the grid, you purchase 1817 kWh peak and 3000 off-peak from your retailer, and other assumptions as before. Then at January 2015 your annual total electricity bill would be with each retailer in the table below right.

Tips for solar users:

Most of the tips for non-solar users above apply.

If you are on the PFIT or TFIT, try to run as much as possible at night or weekends. It’s better to export during the day and get paid 60c or 25c and then buy it back at night at 18c. The reverse will apply when your tariff expires at the end of 2024 or 2016 respectively; then you’ll be better using your solar to power the house during the day If it’s not in the fine print, check whether they are giving you the promised discount on everything you buy from them, or whether they are deducting your export refund first.

Check that the discount you expected actually applies if you have solar.

Finally, remember that this is a rapidly changing market, and that prices and tips quoted here can be out of date very soon. It pays to compare prices annually.

Diary shines at awards

WARRANDYTE Diary was a proud finalist in six out of nine independently judged categories at the annual Community Newspaper Association of Victoria awards recently.

Living up to its motto of “for the community, by the community”, the Diary received a notable thumbs-up, winning the award for Best Community Content among others.

Seven newspapers were short-listed for this award, with three finalists selected against strict criteria: ownership; whether there was an invitation for community people to write; writers being named; variety of writers; type of content about community; whether the writing style seemed community or corporate based.

The Diary was also recognised for: Best Layout & Design (winner); Best Photo (finalist); Best Sports Coverage (finalist); Best News Feature (finalist), and the jewel in the crown – Best Newspaper (winner).

In choosing Warrandyte Diary as the winner in this category, the judge said:

“I was won over by this newspaper’s excellent understanding of its local community. It has a superb lay out with headings and sub-heads that perfectly fill the space, lots of good quality photographs and there is an abundance of life and colour in this 40-page paper.

“There’s a good mix of hard and soft news plus stacks of wonderful feature stories – everything from Australia’s most remarkable school through to a Warrandyte doctor talking about a birth drug breakthrough on the world stage and a well written and photographed feature by Bill McAuley about a local living treasure, Hugh McSpedden.

“It’s also great to see a newspaper that is not afraid to have some fun with a humorous ‘Over The Hills’ column on page 2 and the use of cartoons on several other pages. Throw in plenty of excellent opinion pieces, five pages of sport and an eight-page lift-out on the Great Warrandyte Cook Up (with the cutest mini-chefs you ever did see!) and it all makes Warrandyte Diary a worthy winner of this year’s Best Newspaper Award.”

Diary editor Scott Podmore described the win in last month’s edition as “a fantastic result, not only for our great little team, but all our contributors and the Warrandyte community that we serve”.

“It’s a really lovely way to cap my first year as editor of this newspaper, the communication hub of Warrandyte,” he said. “But I was obviously given an enormous head start and advantage on all the others, and that’s called the Cliff Green factor – the best part of 40 or so years of Cliff building the foundations and growing the best community newspaper in the world, let alone Victoria, and I’m merely steering the ship.”

Warrandyte Diary is one of more than 200 community newspapers regularly published in Victoria.

CNAV, the peak body that represents them, actively works with its members to enhance the capacity and standing of community newspapers in Victoria, and also seeks to raise their profile with all levels of government.

To advance its aim of fostering communication between the papers, the organisation hosts an annual conference, which administers the CNAV awards.

Financed solely through advertising, Warrandyte Diary at 44 years old is the longest continuously running community newspaper in Victoria.

Long may it serve…

(page 7, Warrandyte Diary, November 2014)

Scenario event a great success

A packed audience of more than 160  from Warrandyte, Park Orchards and surrounding townships actively participated in a ‘Be Ready Warrandyte’ bushfire scenario based on the February fire – but with significant changes and potential outcome.

Warrandyte Community Association chairman Dick Davies said “the scenario was realistic” using CFA Phoenix Fire modelling.

“Our BRW local emergency service officers envisaged what could have happened last February if a similar situation had escalated”.

The scenario was a serious fire in Park Orchards spreading to North Warrandyte with a wind change.

Steve Pascoe and Joff Manders did a great facilitation job, painting the picture, asking the questions and engaging both the panel of experts and the audience.

Questions such as “what are your actions triggered by this warning” and “what are the dangers facing you now” elicited a lively interaction between the facilitators, audience and panel.

Steve is an emergency management and fire safety consultant familiar to Warrandyte audiences after facilitating a debriefing forum after the February fire. He works closely with the Victorian Emergency management commissioner.

Steve is a Strathewen resident who experienced and survived the impact and aftermath of Black Saturday.

Joff Manders, a well-known Warrandyte identity, is a former MFB commander and advisor to the Eastern Metropolitan Regional Strategic Fire Management Committee.

The panel of experts included local CFA captains Greg Kennedy and Adrian Mullens, local senior sergeant Stewart Henderson, chief park ranger Conrad Annal and Joe Buffone, the director of Risk and Resilience at Emergency Management Victoria.

Cartoonist Jock MacNeish captured some of the proceedings in his inimitable style.

Mr Buffone congratulated the WCA and the Warrandyte community on the success of the evening and the level of community engagement.

At the end, Mr Davies presented Pastor David Molyneux with a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of the outstanding assistance in hosting fire meetings from the Warrandyte Community Church to the Warrandyte community since Black Saturday 2009.

More information on local fire planning and Be Ready Warrandyte events is available on the WCA website. More info or inquiries phone the Victorian Bushfire Information Line 1800 240 667.

Be Ready Warrandyte is supported by funds from the WCA, Manningham and Nillumbik councils, the Bendigo Bank, Warrandyte Community Bank and the Warrandyte Community Market committee.

(page 4, Warrandyte Diary, November 2014)

Is it time to bunker down?

RESIDENTS of Warrandyte and the surrounding suburbs know only too well the danger that the warmer months of the year start to bring. The hot, breezy days have long been threatening the community, as Warrandyte remains one of Australia’s most dangerous bushfire locations.

Fortunately there is an option, which, in combination with a solid fireplan, should give some relief to the nerves of some this summer.

Wildfire Safety Bunkers, managed and owned by Anthony Tratt, are producing the first private use bushfire shelters to have been fully accredited by CFA Australia.

Commencing his work on the project in October 2007, Anthony took on a lead role in the installation and testing of the units, and saw the shelters receive their official accreditation in 2010.

“We did two years with the Victorian Building Commission and the CFA, we did an enormous amount of testing, and we’ve been proved to be fit for purpose in a bushfire attack level flame zone,” Anthony states.

The bunkers come in a various range of designs, varying from smaller family units to larger options with the capacity to facilitate dozens, as Anthony explains.

“We’ve got a six person unit for domestic use, a 12 person unit that can also be multiplied, and we’ve even got a big 250 person community shelter. However, before a community shelter is built, there are a lot of factors such as access and location of the shelter that need to be addressed.”

Despite having their shelters proven to be fire proof, Wildfire Safety Bunkers urges residents in fire danger areas that the bunkers are a last resort defense mechanism. Complementing this, the company emphatically reminds citizens as to the importance of the community’s fireplan.

“Obviously in Warrandyte they have one heck of a fireplan, and we absolutely promote evacuation. Evacuation is the number one priority for people living in a bushfire area. Our shelters come into the equation when people do happen to get trapped or unaware. Then they have a place of refuge for that situation,” says Anthony.

Many people in the Warrandyte area have already pulled the trigger on purchasing and installing a private bunker in preparation for the sweltering days ahead. Due to the influx of customers in the region, Wildfire Safety Bunkers recently sponsored the fireball, providing valuable support to the community.

“We’ve met a lot of people in the Warrandyte area through installation, we have a lot of units in the area and a fair few people are starting to know about us so we want keep that going and provide an option,” says Anthony.

Full installation of a bunker, including excavation and placement, can be wrapped up in as little as six hours, so for those on the fence about installation, it certainly isn’t too late. Truly now, with the development of these shelters, there is somewhere to go when there’s nowhere to go.

(page 6, Warrandyte Diary, November 2014)

 

Second river crossing

WARRANDYTE could have a second Yarra River crossing before the end of the year with VicRoads to review the town’s ability to cope in a worst-case scenario bushfire emergency.

Member for Warrandyte Ryan Smith last week announced VicRoads would work with Emergency Management Victoria to create a traffic management model as party of a multi-agency review – including Victoria Police, the CFA, Melbourne Water and local councils – with a particular focus on Warrandyte Bridge with considerations to widen it, as well as looking at improving water accessibility for fire brigades.

In February a fire destroyed three Warrandyte homes giving locals a stark reminder of the vulnerability of the environment we live in. The bridge has always been a concern given it is the only route for locals who live north of the Yarra requiring a southern evacuation.

“Two Disaster Plan (Displan) boxes will be installed at both sides of Warrandyte Bridge, containing equipment needed to assist with traffic management during emergencies,” Mr Smith said.

“Our No.1 concern during an emergency is the safe evacuation of people, and these simple solutions will greatly assist Victoria Police and other emergency response teams manage an evacuation.

“The boxes will contain two-sided multi message signs and 40 ‘witches hats’ which could be used to provide drivers with advance notice to prepare for changed traffic conditions.

“The peak danger period for bushfires in the Warrandyte area is nearly upon us, so these measures are not only welcome but also a timely reminder to people in the Warrandyte area to be prepared.

In addition to the Displan boxes, new folding traffic management signs on both sides of Warrandyte Bridge will be installed and road diversion plans for the broader region were being reviewed and finalised.

“I’ve been speaking with VicRoads staff and the aim is to have all of these measures finalised and implemented by the end of the year.”

Residents are reminded of the importance of having a solid fire plan throughout summer. Visit http://warrandyte.org.au/fire/ for news, suggestions and more information on how you can be better prepared.